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UPDATED: September 15, 2015, at 10:38 p.m.
Applicants to colleges and universities may apply for federal financial aid starting Oct. 1 next year, meaning students will have access to information about financial aid possibilities more than two months earlier than under the old system.
In previous years, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, was available starting Jan. 1, when many schools’ regular decision applications are due. The new availability date will “allow students and families to apply for financial aid earlier—starting in October as the college application process gets underway—rather than in January,” the White House said in a statement released Sunday.
An additional change to FAFSA includes a feature for high school students to fill out the application using information provided electronically by the Internal Revenue Service several months after their families file for tax returns.
According to a press release, federal government officials seek to give families information about their children’s financial aid possibilities sooner while also simplifying the application process. Throughout his tenure, President Barack Obama has prioritized simplifying FAFSA.
In early 2014, officials from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform alleged that Harvard was misleading its applicants by encouraging them to fill out forms in addition to FAFSA. The College currently uses CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE, a system under purview of the College Board, to determine financial aid from Harvard alone.
FAFSA remains the only tool for students looking to receive federal aid. While the government’s application is free, CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE costs up to $25 per school. Members of the House committee criticized Harvard for persuading students to fill out both applications “without any explanation of use or purpose.”
University spokesperson Jeff Neal wrote in 2014 that because nearly every student filling out the forms is eligible for both federal and Harvard-specific financial aid, it is “important that nearly every aid applicant completes both forms.”
According to Parke P. Muth, a college admissions counselor and a former associate dean of admissions at the University of Virginia, a large number of educators see the changes to FAFSA as a positive step.
“Some of these forms are daunting for tax lawyers, let alone other people,” Muth said. “Simplifying the process so that people can fill them out and receive the aid they’re eligible for seems like, to many people, a very wise thing to do.”
While Muth lauded the White House for the changes, he added that the next step needs to be a comprehensive look at raw data.
In the case of an increase in the number of students filling out FAFSA, he said, “in one sense that’s a triumph,” but in another, it could possibly decrease the amount of aid that each individual student receives, as schools have a limited amount of money allotted for financial aid purposes.
—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: September 15, 2015
An earlier version of this article and its headline incorrectly stated when the change in the FAFSA release date. In fact, the application will be made available in October starting in 2016, not this year.
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